The Cathartic Effect of Aggression

According to the results of a recent study, not all aggression is bad. Konrad Bresin of the Psychology Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recently conducted two separate studies examining the cathartic effect of aggression. Bresin wanted to counter the existing body of research on aggression, which suggests that for the most part, aggression is maladaptive and has only negative consequences, such as violence. Bresin based his research on the catharsis theory that implies there is a healing and anger-reducing affect that occurs through aggression. It is important that a distinction be made between aggression and violence, as the two behaviors are not mutually exclusive. Aggression, in this study, was the act of participants verbally retaliating against negative feedback. In one study, the participants were instructed to aggress toward the person who gave the feedback or a neutral individual. Measures of anger were assessed prior to and after the feedback was delivered. In the second study, Bresin wanted to see if participants who had reductions in anger in the first study would be more likely to aggress at a future time.

Overall, the results of both studies supported Bresin’s predictions and the catharsis theory. In the first study, the participants who aggressed against the source of the negative feedback had sharp decreases in anger when compared to the participants who aggressed against nonsource neutral controls. In the second study, Bresin found that these same individuals who had anger reductions were more likely to aggress in another experiment. These findings demonstrate that aggressing toward a source of frustration can have a very cathartic effect. Anger and hostility that may increase during a tense situation can be easily moderated with aggression. Although some forms of aggression are maladaptive, such as abuse, physical violence, and verbal abuse, adaptive forms of aggression appear to not only create a calming effect, but also empower participants with the tools necessary to regulate anger emotions in the future. This is especially important for people prone to violence. Because anger, aggression, and violence are quite different, being angry does not always cause someone to become violent. Bresin believes that this study shows how adaptive aggression can potentially reduce the risk of violence by decreasing feelings of anger and frustration. He added, “Future research may address the question of whether changes in anger following violence (or aggression) have similar relations to future violence.”

Bresin, Konrad, and Kathryn H. Gordon. (2013). Aggression as affect regulation: Extending catharsis theory to evaluate aggression and experiential anger in the laboratory and daily life. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.4 (2013): 400-23. ProQuest. Web.

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  • laird

    April 15th, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    to all the angry people out there-do NOT confuse aggression with anger or is one thing to stand up for what you think is right and quite another to fight about fighting still yields nothing,despite what the study says.because it does not talk about violence,it only speaks of adapting to the situation and being able to handle your aggression and channelizing it.

  • julian

    April 15th, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    I’ve been aggressive all my life.but never violent.its a fine balance to maintain but if you know where to draw the line it isn’t too hard.

    having been through many positive and negative situations,I can say from my own experience that aggression can be a very good aid in most situations.but it should be under total step out of the line and it can quickly turn into violence and other not so desirable results.

  • trish

    April 16th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    I agree with Laird. It is different to be aggressive and to just be downright angry and violent.

    Getting that aggression out on something causing you pain, that’s a release for you, and that’s good. But there is nothing good to be gained from enacting violence against something or someone else.

  • FreeLand

    April 18th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    if you can find a setting where no one gets hurt, then i say scream and yell and let it all out- guaranteed mood lifter!

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